Monday, August 9, 2010

Interview with Illustrator Kirsten Ulve!!

So, on a whim I thought I would try contacting a very talented illustrator by the name of Kirsten Ulve for some advice one day... and she responded!! Such a lovely woman. She even permitted me to share her advice with all of you, enjoy!


I looked for a bio on your website, but couldn't find anything like that. Could you summarize your career for me? What did you study at school, and was it helpful? How did you get started? Was illustration always the goal? Or did you find yourself there?

I'll try to answer all of the above here: I've always loved drawing/designing when I was a kid, but my parents wanted me to pursue something more career stable than art. Of course, when I got to college and got rebellious, I decided to be an art major. I was working on my BFA in drawing/BA in graphic design at the University of Iowa (there was no illustration program, but yes, these were super helpful building blocks), and I also worked at this little graphic design agency run by the school (which was even more helpful - the dawn of the using computers to draw!). We did all of the graphic design and illustration for the student union/bookstores/restaurants, campus activities, etc. Then I moved to Chicago to be with my boyfriend at the time. I freelanced for a while - some graphic design, some illustration - mostly nightclub flyers and the occasional cover for New City newspaper. It was hard to find work though, and I really wasn't sure how to get my illustration career off the ground. At that time (early 90's) it was still pre-internet, so you dropped off/picked up your portfolio. I eventually met my rep Holly Hahn there, and we decided to give things a test drive. After 6 years there, I decided to move to NYC (in 1996), but continued to work with Holly in Chicago. I started sending out some postcard mailers and advertising with her in the workbook, showing my book around NYC. There was a lot more work here, and I got a few magazine jobs, which is like free advertising. I think my first job was with American Salon Magazine. I later did a stint of advice column drawings for the gay porn mag "Inches," which was hilarious. I was also working as a graphic designer for the first two years here in NYC at The Princeton Review. I drew at night. My teeny apartment wasn't big enough to set up a place to work with my roommate there too (who later became the shoe designer for Christian Dior), so I got a little studio space in The Cable Building downtown, which was really cheap then (it's not now). I got a website together - it must have been in 1999 or so - and started getting jobs from all over the country. After 2 years, I had to quit my day job. Then I approached CWC to see if they would rep me in Japan, and we've worked together for about 10 years now. At this point, I've been a full time illustrator now for about 12 years, and I'm still repped by Holly in Chicago. I'm still busy! Knock on wood.

I personally grapple quite a bit with my on-going search for a
personal style, and even more so, my artistic voice. I understand the
need for a strong personal brand, and that includes an equally clear
illustrative style. What was the evolution of your own brand like? Is this how you've always drawn, or did you have to consciously work at it to bring your
current style to fruition?

I never went to school for illustration, and "branding" is definitley a modern approach to an artist's marketability. Making money was never factored in to art school when I was there, which is so weird! Anyway, yes, it's good to have an identifiable look. I never really thought about it while I was coming up, I was just trying to develop my drawings in a way that I loved as much as or more than I loved the work of my heroes. It was and is a process of self discovery. A lot of trial and error, honing and editing. Paying attention to what excites you. I used to SUCK! And I mean, when I see my old work, I cringe a little. Don't laff, but here's a piece from 1998. 12 years later, my work looks pretty different now:

Do you ever feel limited, or perhaps stir-crazy working within the perimeters of your style?

Not really. I try to keep interested in what I'm drawing and the way it's drawn. Sometimes I have the freedom to bring in looks I'm testing, sometimes not. Illustration is almost always seen in conjunction with something: text, on packaging, etc - so I view drawing assignments like design challenges. My style is a function of solving a visual issue, and that means it has to feel visually relevant with modern graphic design (which has trends just like fashion), and then I bring in feeling, humor, personality, etc.

I'm assuming you chiefly use Adobe Illustrator (which is also my program of choice).

Me too.

Do ever experience what I refer to as "digital burnout" where you just can't stand to look at the computer another second?


If so, what's your remedy?

Yes, I do get compu-burnout, but I'm also kind of addicted to my computers. I love them, and then I shun them when I get overworked. My solutions are that I don't watch tv or play video games, I don't even use Iphone apps. I try to limit unnecessary screen time. I head to the country (we have a mountain house in the Catskills) and do some gardening. Travel helps (but then I find that I need to work remotely when I'm busy). I'm also pretty social. I ski a lot in winter, and am always taking some kind of exercise class. Currently it's a Michael Jackson dance class. We'll learn the entire Thriller routine and then perform it as zombies in the NYC Halloween parade. I cannot wait!

How do you bust through design block?

Hmmm...I don't know! But if something isn't working, I move on. Take a break, let it marinate, come back with new eyes. Forcing it never works. I also have a library of inspiring art books, and if I'm stuck, sometimes I'll leaf through one that has a feeling I'm going for.

I see that you do animation work as well. How long have you been animating? Did you learn in school, or are you self taught? What programs do you use for animations? Do you feel you get more attention, or even better, can ask for more compensation having this extra skill in your arsenal?

OMG, I so do not animate anything! The only animation I know how to do is really low end animated gif stuff that I sometimes send out at the holidays. Illustration and animation are really two different fields - everything you see on my site has been animated by someone else. Sometimes if I client liked my work, I'd be hired to draw the "key frames" of the storyboard, and an animation team did the movement. This was more likely to happen if I had been doing a print campaign (like Oster, Palty of Japan, and then I did one for Midol that's not on the site), and then the client bought tv advertising time to do an animated commercial to match. You definitely get paid well if this happens, as advertising rates/illustrator usage fees for TV are much higher. Definitely separate fees: one fee for the illustrator to draw the images, another fee for the animator animating them (so if you do both, yes, charge separately). I think there are a lot more "cool" animation studios now, so I don't think it's as common for illustrators to "style" animated commercials anymore because it's way more expensive for the client to pay for the drawings, and then pay again for animation. An animation studio will charge one fee for moving images and are typically work for hire (paid per project or hourly with no image rights), so it's way cheaper.


How do you promote yourself?

I advertise in the workbook, and I have two agents. Magazine work is also like promotion. I'm busy, so I've gotten kind of lazy about promoting myself! BAD!

Do you keep a physical portfolio of work? Or are you all digital in

My agents have physical portfolios, but I don't any more. Art directors used to want to see your book or printed samples, but now a website is typically fine

I see that you have an agent.

Yes, one in Chicago, one in Tokyo

How was the process of getting an agent?

I just contacted them, met them, and we "test drove" each other before we signed contracts.

Do you recommend having one?


Do they get you work you feel you could not get representing yourself?

Yes. Art buyers at ad agencies typically work only with agents who know the drill about pricing complicated usage.

Did you have to pay a start-up fee with your agent?

No, it was a very casual beginning with both of them

Or did you pay once they started getting you work?

Is a startup fee typical now? What's included in that? There is never any guarantee they'll get you work, especially if they represent lots of people.

Once you land a job, how does your interaction with a client typically
play out? Meaning, do you have sketch reviews, do you charge for
edits, etc.

They e-mail or call, call my agent, there's no rule. They run the project past me, ask if I'm interested. If I'm working with my agent, I'll keep her in the loop and they discuss money before I do anything. Once the $ is agreed upon, I make 1 sketch to start. The client can make any changes at this point free of charge, until the concept is nailed down. If the job is a more complicated development process involving test marketing groups or layers of approval (sometimes this happens with expensive ad campaigns or products), this part can take a while and my agent will limit the number of sketches included in development to protect my time, and then if that's exceeded, we charge for another layer of development. Once the concept and sketch are approved, I make the digital piece. I also offer free adjustments to the digital drawing, but these are usually minor and involving color. If the concept changes at this point, a kill fee is charged. For magazines, it's the whole fee. For advertising, it's the development fee without the usage fee. If any job is killed while your'e sketching, you get a smaller kill fee, usually a percentage.

How do you negotiate price?

Some of the smaller jobs I do are "house accounts," where I bill clients myself and don't work with my agent. There are some rough guidelines for editorial (magazine and newspaper) work. 1500-2000 for full page, 300-500 for a spot, 750 for a quarter page. Book covers and cards usually have their own budgets, and they'll let you know what they can afford, and sometimes there's wiggle room if it seems low. Ultimately you decide if it's worth it for you. Advertising is more complicated. Basically, drawings are rented for certain periods of time to use in specific places. So they're priced based on what's called "usage." Fees are subject to who the client is, if the campaign is national or international, what their budget is, where the drawing appears, etc. This is where an agent helps because they'll know how to play ball with an art buyer, who's job it is to spend as little of the ad agency's money as possible with the most usage rights.

How do work out a contract? Did you ever get burned before you got wise?

The client will send you a contract. It will be full of legal speak, but they're generally structured in a similar way. The important parts are about the fee, the terms of usage, and about who retains the copyright. I don't remember the last time I got burned..but once I did several drawings for "Success" magazine, and then, ironically, they went out of business and I was never paid. I think we did end up getting something from the bankrupcy settlement though. Oh, and currently there is a company who produced products in Taiwan using a pattern I made for a company in Hong Kong, so there is a legal battle there that my Japanese agents are handling. This is the third time a company in Taiwan has stolen my work over the years. An agent is helpful here too, although I know other artists who hire lawyers who specialize in this area.

How do you balance making your passion, your job?

I wouldn't say drawing for other people is my super ultra passion. But I do feel really lucky to be able to do this for a living, because it's close! I also really enjoy helping people and solving their visual puzzles, and that's part of the service I offer too. Illustration is a commercial art. Drawing is for yourself. When I start to feel like my own drawings are not getting enough of my attention (easy to do when you're busy), I look into doing a show so I can force myself to pay attention to them. It's not always financially lucrative to do a gallery show, but my favorite work always comes out of them, and then more work will usually spring from there.

MAN, this is so windy. Hope it's helpful! Good luck to you!!


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Saturday, May 15, 2010

I'm done.....?

I'm gonna have to be. It's 3 am, and I have the stationery show tomorrow.
I guess this means I'm done with... college?
All's left is the cap and gown. Damn.

The end is near!

PATRON IS DONE!!! ahhhhh thank God.
Once I finish Bailey's, I WILL BE DONE WITH COLLEGE!!!!
....annnd I need to finish that TODAY. AHH! lol omg things are wild

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Another Mermaid!

This one's looking for trouble....

Saturday, May 8, 2010

T-shirts I designed for my bro and I for Bridge Street Run (bar crawl) in Oswego

Who's seen Zombieland??? If you haven't you need to. That and Kick Ass are my current favorite movies.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Luz! the musical?

Worked on the cover of Luz's portfolio today. She wanted it in the style of a Playbill since she specializes in events and entertainment. Haven't gotten the OK yet, so it may still change. The grayscale was a quick photoshop to see how it might look, not a finished .ai file.